Can the Georgia Dome survive without the Falcons?

Want to pull off a major rock concert that's too big for the Fox Theatre or need a place for robot battles, the Dome is open for business.

The Georgia Dome has become more than a home for the Atlanta Falcons over the years, hosting everything from the mega tour for rock band U2 to Microsoft meetings. Still, the football team commands half the Dome's revenue.

Can the facility be self-sustaining without the Falcons as its main draw?

Officials at the Georgia World Congress Center are looking for an answer to that question since the Falcons said last month that they would prefer to play in an open-air stadium sometime in the next decade.

GWCC executive director Frank Poe has said he doesn't want to give up on the lucrative Dome because it has financial significance beyond the Falcons. It's home to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, has become a favorite for SEC football championships and has lured NCAA Men's and Women's Final Four tournaments.

And many events with which the Dome has contracts will only play in a stadium with a roof, including the several basketball tournaments the facility is committed to host through 2015. The Georgia Dome also is part of the bid to bring the World Cup to Atlanta in either 2018 or 2022.

But Poe acknowledges that a big chunk of the facility's operating revenue -- as much as 52 percent -- comes from the Falcons.

The Falcons brought in $8 million in revenues during the 2009 season, which included eight regular and two pre-season games, according to Dome figures. The GWCC adds to that Falcons revenue figure the roughly $17 million to $19 million collected annually from a hotel/motel tax levied to pay off Dome bonds.

"We are going to go through this in a deliberative and expeditious fashion," Poe said of the work to determine future plans for the Dome and the Falcons. "I wouldn't say that there is a forgone conclusion that there will be two stadiums. I'd say we are at the front end of this, not the back end. It's going to take time."

What Poe has to consider is how to make the numbers work. For instance, the Dome's operating budget for fiscal 2011, which begins July 1, is $55 million. Expenses will total around $41.3 million.

The net profit -- some $13.6 million -- will come largely from the Falcons. Take that away and what does that leave.

Poe hopes the answer may be in new business. Fiscal 2011 will be aided by new revenue from the Georgia State University Panthers, playing their inaugural season at the Dome, as well as WWE's Wrestlemania 27, considered to be the Super Bowl of wrestling.

Supporters of a World Cup bid in the city also hope to bring more soccer to the stadium as a way to show the area's interest in the sport.

In fact, while the Falcons played 10 games at the Dome in 2009, the facility hosted a total of 106 events that year.

And the Top 10 events in the stadium so far in fiscal 2010 -- excluding Falcons games -- brought in $6.4 million, including the U2 concert, Monster Jam, Supercross and Honda Battle of the Bands.

"The business model of the Dome would change certainly in the hypothetical event of the Falcons moving out," he said. "There is not a quick and easy answer."

Heywood Sanders, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio and an expert on the meetings industry, said finding new business in the meetings and convention world is increasingly becoming more difficult because cities have overbuilt convention space, ratcheting up the competition.

It's even harder when the event sought has to drive the same volume of parking revenue and concession sales that a football team commands.

But it's a situation worth figuring out, said John Grant, executive director of 100 Black Men of Atlanta, which oversees the Bank of America Atlanta Football Classic. Officials with the game prefer the indoors, he said.

"It is an insurance policy against inclement weather," said Grant. "We believe our customer demographic (62 percent are women with kids) has a stronger preference for an indoor arena."

Grant said a torrential rain fell at last year's game right at kickoff.

"It would have killed us had we not been inside," he said.

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